Monday, July 20, 2020

Carl Reiner, Howard Morris...Nude Julie and a Bubbly Bathtub


The passing of Carl Reiner led to many fond recollections of his work as both an actor, writer and director. His connection to Julie Newmar was casting her in an episode of “Good Heavens.” The show only lasted 13 episodes (February 1976-June 1976). He concept, not the most original, was Carl playing an angel granting wishes to suitable mortals.

So far no episodes seem to have turned up via “the usual suspects” in the bootleg world, but who knows, Netflix or some cable channel may re-discover it someday.

I met Carl several times, and he was just as you’ve seen him, a funny, mild-mannered, really nice guy.

He had humility. I was at the press screening for “All of Me.” The audience roared with laughter and applauded as the lights came up, but there was Carl Reiner, standing in the lobby, calling out as people were leaving: “How did you like it? How was it?”

One of the highlights on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was the episode where Laura Petrie gets her toe stuck in the bathtub spout. It was, Carl said, inspired by a true-life incident. Is there anyone who hasn’t idly stuck their toe in the spout?

Carl said that what that show classic was because of what wasn’t seen: Mary Tyler Moore naked in that bathtub. Every plaintive cry from behind the locked door brought more and more laughs. It was all in the imagination of the audience, until the end when, covered thanks to husband Rob breaking down the door, the plumber could set her free.

Julie Newmar would take it further and longer via an 11 minute segment on “Love American Style.”

The director was Howard Morris, who had not only appeared in a memorable “Dick Van Dyke Show” episode himself (as an eccentric art expert) but had worked with Carl Reiner much earlier on “Your Show of Shows.”

Julie's a famous actress taking a bath before her wedding. She talks to the groom on the phone and idly...gets her toe stuck.

A wise comedy director knows better than to coach Julie Newmar. When you have a formidable living presence like Julie, you just let her be both the “straight” and the “comic.” She’s one of the very few who can get “reaction laughs,” just by facial expression. In this case, it was a collection of stares and glares as Charlie Callas played an inept plumber making odd noises and lapsing into Cary Grant and bird impressions while trying to figure out how to extricate a toe from a faucet. At first he's blindfolded and gets lots of laughs groping around the room and around Julie. He gets even more when he realizes what famous star is now in front of him and behind only bubbles.

It was an interesting comedy exercise; Julie and Charlie didn’t really work together. Director Morris had some two-shots (as you see above), but there were plenty of close-ups. The viewer saw Charlie’s heated excitement and the alternately cool reactions of Julie to his clowning and her cat-like howls of frustration over still being stuck in the tub.

Callas was a gifted clown. Like Jerry Lewis, some found him hard to take and undisciplined. I remember attending a Friars event with both Jerry Lewis and Charlie Callas among the guests. Those two naturally gravitated toward each other, like a mugging showdown. They drew their weapons: their faces, and “gurned” at each other, seeing who would break up first. It was a social situation, there were no video cameras or reporters around. This is something they did naturally.

It ended in a draw, when Howard Cosell came over to tell them that the banquet was starting. They both attacked him with oddball expressions till he helplessly laughed and turned away.

The big difference between Mary Tylor Moore’s bathtub scene and Julie’s, is that Julie was in front of the camera the whole time. You didn’t have to imagine her. As fantastic a comedy talent as Mary was, the laughs would’ve been ruined if she’d been in view. Laura Petrie in that kind of trouble is cringeworthy. Julie’s never played “mortified,” and her character here is a sophisticated actress. The longer the scene lasted, the better, with a few added twists (the groom arriving, and a cop played by always droll Richard Stahl) keeping the scene and the bathtub bubbles frothy. Props to the prop man who had to periodically stir up the suds and add more bubbles. (A tough job, but somebody had to do it…and do it…about two dozen times during the many hours it took to film the sequence).

The very first “stuck in a bathtub” scene involving a fabulous star was in “The 7 Year Itch.” Hangdog sap Tom Ewell frets over Marilyn Monroe needing a plumber’s helper. Another coincidence: Julie knew Marilyn. They were both at 20th Century Fox at the same time, and had a history of studying acting with the top teachers in New York. She discussed Marilyn briefly with my friend Norman Mailer on a classic episode of “The Mike Douglas Show.”

The scene in the movie is less than 30 seconds. As good as Marilyn was, and as much of a pro as Victor Moore was as the plumber, there was no way that scene could’ve been extended. Marilyn was way too vulnerable/sexual and old, doleful Victor could only get a few laughs over his embarrassment and lust. About 15 extra seconds were snipped out of the finished film: a moment where Victor Moore accidentally drops his wrench and has to fish it out of the tub. Did he accidentally touch Monroe in the wrong place while doing it? The way it was filmed just wasn’t funny, it was just…uncomfortable. With Callas in “Love American Style,” director Morris made sure that Charlie got the wrench in one hand and only Julie’s shapely leg in the other.

And so, only Julie Newmar is the memorable actress doing a comical bathtub scene involving a plumber trying to get her unstuck — in full view of the audience. Julie would appear in two more segments of “Love American Style” as well as in a segment of a pilot film (“Fools, Females and Fun”) that was intended to be a rival as a saucy short story collection. This one remains her favorite.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home